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Archive for the ‘Bible Records’ Category

I am so lucky to be a Tennessee researcher. I think their Tennessee State Archives and Library (TSLA) is one of the country’s best, and the service I have received over the years from its dedicated employees has been magnificent.

They just finished digitizing and uploading hundred of bibles in their collection. I spent some time perusing through the files. They are organized by surname. Any family that finds these records is a truly fortunate.

I hope that more African-Americans will submit copies from their family bibles. But consider that there is another valuable way we can use existing collections: researching the slaveowning family. Some slaveowners recorded the births and deaths of their slaves into their bible records. I was surprised as I perused these bibles just how many did just that.

The  Frazier Titus family recorded the births from slaves named Emaline, Ann and Julia, and recorded the death of Harriet:

Titus

Titus

 

In 1870, Frazier has relocated from Nashville to Memphis; just a few doors away is a black woman named “Emaline”—perhaps his former slave?

Titus 1870

Titus 1870

 

The James Wood bible includes entries noting the birth of three children of Judy. There is also a faintly visible message, called “Relative to the origins of our servants”. That section includes bible verses in Genesis and also about Hagar. This is a reminder that whites often used the Bible to support the idea that blacks were inferior and that slavery was ordained by God.

Wood

Wood

 

The George Hale (and Henry) family of Blount County, TN, included two pages (with the quaint title of “Servants”) of at least 3 generations of their enslaved people.

Hale

Hale

Lastly, the Overton family tracked the births of “Negro Mary’s” 3 children:

Overton

Overton

 

Seek out bibles at other state archives, and also in historical and genealogical societies as well as library and university manuscript collections. I know that NGS has a large collection of family bibles accessible by members. Readers, tell me, have you used bible records in your own research?

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I am in a state of genealogic shock.

My ancestor Martha Simpson was the wife of Levi Prather. I’ve been working hard in past years trying to unravel the complicated slave relationships in the Prather family of Montgomery County, Maryland. Finding Levi’s slaveowner was hard work, so I hadn’t focused much on Martha yet. Just recently, I’d started thinking perhaps Martha was freed before 1864 (Maryland’s state constitution in that year freed its slaves).

I’d been able to locate a sister of Martha’s (Leanna) and a brother (James) as freedpeople in 1860, so it was logical to think that Martha perhaps had been freed as well. But there was a better reason for my suspicion: we are fortunate to have a few pages of the Prather family bible, noting exact dates births and deaths of some of the Simpson family:

Bible Page

Bible Page

When I started to really analyze these pages, it occurred to me that it would be unlikely that enslaved people would have known exact birthdates dating from the 1840s. So, I did a search for Martha Simpson in 1860, and voila, that name pulled up living in a white Warfield family—but in neighboring Howard County instead of Montgomery County:

1860 Martha

1860 Martha

The Howard County location surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. We are always supposed to examine neighboring counties. I still wasn’t sure this was MY Martha, even though the age matched. But here is yet another example of how use of the clustering technique can be helpful (i.e., looking for groups of people associated with your ancestors). I knew from studying Martha and Levi’s 1870 census neighborhood in Montgomery Cty that they lived right smack dab in the middle of a bunch of black people with the surname–can you guess?– Warfield. So Martha living with a family of that surname made me feel like I was onto something. I decided to see if Martha was there in 1850, and Oh My Goodness. There they were, Martha and several of the siblings listed in my bible page—nice and neat and living as freedpeople in Howard County in 1850! Even better—they are with (presumably) their mother Louisa. The actual image is bad, so I will transcribe the entry:

Louisa Simpson, 33
Harriet L [Leanna], 11
Mary E, 9
James W, 7
Joseph W, 5
Martha J, 4
Minta L, 3 [?]

I have just found another ancestor and extended my tree with the name of ‘Louisa.’ This was an odd case in that I knew the name of the father–Perry Simpson–and it was in fact the mother’s name who had been lost to history. He may have been still enslaved in 1850, and perhaps that is why his name is not shown in the household.

Chills ran up my spine when I saw this census record for another reason: I live in Howard County! To think that my ancestors lived near where I live now over 150 years ago is just earth-shattering for me. But wait—it gets better. Howard County was formally organized relatively late—1851—from Anne Arundel County. Both Anne Arundel and Howard County have some combination of freedom certificates, manumission and chattel records available on the Archives of Maryland website. Just, WOW. It almost gets no better than that.

Doing an online search of these records, I discovered a manumission from one Ann Dorsey dated August 1816, of the following enslaved people:

Lyd, age 30
Harriot, age 11
William, 10
Mary, 7
Belinda, 5
Eliza, age 3
**Louisa, 18 months

Witnesses to this transaction were Gustavus Warfield and Humphrey Dorsey. It is possible the “Louisa” in this list, who is a baby, could be the same Louisa found in the 1850 census who is the mother of my Martha Simpson. Of course, I’ve got alot of work to do onsite in repositories before I can conclude that because we all know nothing thorough can be done online. My first task is to figure out which Ann Dorsey this was, since this was a large, prominent Maryland family and there were Anns all over the place. For right now, I suspect it was the Ann whose maiden name was —Warfield.

I have also gathered that this enslaved community likely had roots in many of the “first families” of Anne Arundel and Howard County: Dorsey, Worthington, Simpson, Warfield, Chase, Hall, etc. Many former slaves with those surnames are living in the community near my Prathers in Montgomery County in the 1870s. I was also fortunate to find at GoogleBooks a downloadable copy of The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties” written by Joshua Dorsey Warfield in 1905. There is a phenomenal amount of information in this book, and I’m just beginning to sift through it.

This is such a rewarding and absolutely thrilling discovery. I haven’t been speechless in a long time. Martha was here–right under my nose the whole time.

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

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This is the kind of story that just makes you feel good all over. About 12 years ago, my aunt presented me with a very old bible that was found in my grandparent’s house in Dayton, Ohio. When my grandfather passed away, my aunt and mother were cleaning out the house, and happened to find it. My aunt knew I was into genealogy, so to me it went. The bible had been time worn, and was falling apart.

Although I couldn’t find a publication date, I’d guess it dates from the turn of the century. It contained a few obituaries cut from newspapers, and several pages of assorted of births, deaths and marriages (some from the 1800s). That information is hard to come by, and would be  solid gold for that family.  Historic surnames listed in the bible include Morton and Grey (in addition to Hughes). The bible clearly at one time belonged to Walter Louis Hughes (b. 1912) and his wife Emma (Lee), who were from Maysville, Kentucky, located in Mason County:

Walter & Emma Hughes

Births

Walter’s parents were Walter Hughes Sr. and Bertie (maiden name unknown). Walter had migrated with his wife and children from Kentucky to Dayton, Ohio, and probably lived in the house my grandparents eventually bought, or one of the houses they owned. Walter and Emma had a large family—I counted at least 10 children in the Bible (Goldie, Mary, Emma, Ruth, Walter III, William, Joyce, Audrey, Michael, and Trenia). Walter’s obituary was cut out & placed in the bible:

Walter Hughes Jr. Obit

At that time, online resources were few. Afrigeneas was one of the first major sites to focus on African-American centered genealogy and using Afrigeneas, I posted my information looking for these families. Amazingly, I got an email back from Mary, whose mother was from Maysville and a Hughes cousin in this family. She was thrilled and excited. Her mother is also involved in preserving Maysville African-American history.

After that, I dropped the ball. I don’t know what happened. Probably just the stuff of life, but nothing else happened. A few months ago, while preparing for a renovation, I came upon the Bible again, buried deeply in my basement. Fortunately, I had printed out the email from Mary and placed it in the box, but that was from 2002. I called the numbers, feeling awful about not having sent it when I had the chance.

But as the spirits would have it, Mary’s phone numbers were the same! I called and she remembered our correspondence all those years ago. I absolutely believe the spirits have a hand in it when something like this happens. I sent the Bible immediately, because I know if that were about my family, I’d just about die to have it. I also digitized the pages. Even though the Bible is not in the immediate family (i.e., one of Walter & Emma’s children), I feel really good that is within the extended family and back in Kentucky where it belongs. I wanted to post it here just in case any of Walter or Emma’s descendants decide to do an internet search one day on their family.

Just because I couldn’t resist, I looked up Walter and Emma and found them in Kentucky in the early 1900s.

Walter and Emma, 1940

Walter and Emma, 1930

Walter's parent's

Walter with Parents, 1920

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I finally got back to Tennessee after 5 long years! And what a trip it was. I just have to share some of the major highlights with you.

I flew into Memphis, TN and met in person not one but two cousins I had talked to on the phone a few years ago. Both Dianne and Leatha were kind and generous, and shared their family photos and funeral programs, which I handily scanned with my portable scanner & laptop. Here is a picture of me and my new cousins, after they treated me to a fabulous meal at the world famous Rendezvous bar-b-que restaurant:

Robyn and new Cousins

My cousin Leatha’s late husband was one of my Holt ancestors, and she shared many family documents that he saved. One of the most incredible was a Bible record of deaths (the bible was owned by his grandfather) that for the first time, listed my enslaved ancestor Malinda’s death! WOW.

Another Holt Bible

Later during my trip, I took pictures and video at the cemetery (Cawthon Cemetery in Hardin County, TN) where Malinda is buried along with many of her descendants:

Robyn with gggrandmother

Robyn with gggrandmother

After a night in Memphis, I drove the next day the two hours to Hardin County, and spent the rest of the day at the courthouse, where I would have one of the most mind-blowing discoveries of my entire 13 years of research. While perusing Chancery Court original loose files, I found a case where my two enslaved ggggrandparents, Mason and Rachel Garrett/Garrard, both gave depositions. This 200+ page file also included the names of their slaveowner and where he got them from (his wife’s father)! It had the slaveowner’s will and inventory (listing them and their children) and many, many many relevant details about that time and place.

Did I mention this had been one of my brick walls where I had been unable to find the slaveowners? Two other important points: they actually lived in the neighboring Decatur County,  but the plaintiff lived in Hardin so that was where the case was filed (thus, always look in neighboring counties!) And, although this file was started in 1870, it had information going back to 1854 (thus, researching post-emancipation files can lead you to the slaveowner).

The file involved a lawsuit between the daughter of the slaveowner and the administrator of her father and uncle’s estate. The suit lasted about 5 years. I’ve posted before about the value of court records, and yesterday I gave a well-received lecture at a local genealogy group about using court records to uncover the lives of slaves. Although these are not beginner records, when you’re ready, please do dive in!!! There are so many jewels to be found.

I spent two days in the ancestral birth town of my maternal grandparents, Hooker’s Bend, Tennessee (which is in Hardin County). I stayed with my lovely cousin Evelyn, and enjoyed the treat of her southern home cooking and charm. I visited several other cousins while I was there, and one even had a photo of my grandfather that I’d never seen before:

Luther Holt

Saturday I spent a few hours at the public library, where a kind courthouse worker allowed me to peruse old circuit court records (Thank you soooo much, Tammy) Then I headed 45 minutes away to Decatur County, TN to meet–yes, you guessed it–another new cousin, Emaline. We ate and laughed and shared information and I have to tell you again how gracious all of my extended family members are.

The trip closed out with me heading back to Memphis for one final evening with cousin Gloria. This was an A+-Super research trip and I came back enthusiastic, exhausted, but feeling blessed beyond belief.

I am still riding on the ancestor’s wings.

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I’ve been absent the last week because we had a huge Prather Reunion on Saturday that was 6 months in the planning. It was a booming success–but I was absolutely exhausted afterwards. I wrote the family history & we are now at almost 200 descendants. Phenomenal. It was great to meet everybody.

In preparation for this reunion, I’ve spent the last 8 months or so really diving deep into this branch. Beatrice Prather was my great-grandmother and her parents, Levi and Martha Prather, were the progenitors of this branch. They lived in Montgomery County, Maryland and I’ve enjoyed researching every aspect of African-American life there in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve spent lots of time at the Montgomery County Courthouse, the Montgomery County Historical Society & the Maryland State Archives.

I’ve posted here about Bible records previously, and in the middle of creating the book for the reunion some new Bible records appeared that I hadn’t seen before and really will help augment and support my research on this branch in serious ways. I wanted to share how information in these records served to support a thesis of mine. Every bit of evidence helps.

Levi and Martha Prather appear first on the 1870 census in Montgomery County.

1870 Census

1870 Census

Here is Levi Prather (the picture is very faint):

Levi Prather

Levi Prather

Here is his wife Martha (Simpson) Prather:

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

I had posited that the 70 year old Resin Prather found in the household was likely Levi’s father. His presence in their home in 1870 was one bit of evidence, but Levi also named a son Resin. My grandmother also wrote in her Bible that Resin was the father of Levi, but she was deceased when I saw this so I couldn’t ask her where this information came from.

Here is one of the three new Bible pages:

Bible Record

Bible Record

The first line says:
“Resin Prather departed this life on Jan 8, 1872″.

I was so excited about this. His presence in this Bible record strengthens my thesis that he was a relative (and likely his father). I don’t think its a stretch to assume that most Bible records would contain mainly records of relatives.

There were two other Bible pages in addition to this one, and there were several new names listed of people that I did not previously know were relatives, especially on Martha’s Simpson side. That’s a huge lead for me as the Simpsons had been somewhat of a brick wall.

Another listing helped me with identifying the last slaveowner. Right after Resin Prather, there is a line that says:

“Tobias Prather (departed this life) on July 28, 1873.

Here is a partial clip from an 1855 slave tax assessment in Montgomery County for Dorothy Williams:

Slaves Taxed

Slaves Taxed

This lists several of her slaves, including Levi, age 18, and Tobias, age 36. I knew Tobias used the surname Prather after slavery and there is another slave Dorothy owned, Wesley, age 30, who also used the name Prather. She also owns two slaves named Darius–my Levi named a son Darius and that name has survived down through the current generation today. I had previously discovered that Levi’s suspected father, Resin Prather, had a different owner living nearby, Nathan Cooke.

However, the somewhat uncommon names grouped together–Tobias, Levi, Vachel, Darius, Wesley–is what helped me be more confident that she is right owner. Tobias’ listing in the family Bible again strengthens the case that these are the same group of formerly enslaved individuals.

Next I discovered Dorothy Williams was the former Dorothy Belt (the family that is the namesake for Beltsville, MD) and that she married Walter Williams. I’m now tracking both of these families for any more insight into their slaves.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, good things drop down into your lap. I think the ancestors gave me this one, on the occasion of their descendants coming together 145 years later to remember them. Thank you, Levi and Martha!

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I have had some wonderful Bible discoveries in the past year. I want to share them with you along with some thoughts on evaluating them. I’m sure many of you already know the definitions and importance of determining whether your latest genealogical discovery is:

*an Original or Derivative Source
*Primary or Secondary Information
*Direct or Indirect Evidence

If you want to get really good at this genealogy thing, learn these concepts and work through some examples. The indefatigable Elizabeth Shown Mills has written extensively on this.  I also suggest the book “Genealogical Proof Standard” by Christine Rose. I’m going to only talk about the first two in the interest of keeping this post long and not really long.;)

An Original Source is the very first–the original–record of an event (such as a birth certificate). A Derivative Source has to copy its information from an original source (an example is a book of transcribed vital records or those online transcribed databases we are all so fond of). An important point to remember is that derivatives always introduce the opportunity for errors. Typically, an original source is regarded as more reliable than a derivative source.

The terms Primary vs. Secondary Information refer to the quality of the information. Primary information was made by someone in a position to know firsthand usually at or near the time of the event OR made in writing by an officer charged by law, canon or bylaws with creating an accurate record (like a court clerk who records marriages). Anything else is secondary information (for example, all census records are secondary).  Typically, primary information is regarded as more reliable than secondary information.

So one of the goals in genealogy is to find as many Original Sources and as much Primary Information as possible.

It can get really tricky, though. A death certificate is an original source, but it can have both primary (the death dates) and secondary information (the birth dates) on it. An original source, generally deemed more reliable, could in fact have incorrect information on it.

When evaluating evidence, you want to ask yourself WHO wrote this, WHEN  and WHY.

So this year my newfound cousin Lester Holt shared copies of a Holt Family Bible, which appears to have belonged to his grandfather. If you’ve never taken pictures of a Bible that is falling apart, it works really well. But, be sure to take a picture of the publishing page so you can know what year the Bible was published. If the Bible was published in 1948 and it contains entries dating in the 1920’s, those obviously could not have been recorded at or near the time they happened, which affects how you evaluate the data.

Here’s a page of deaths from the Holt Bible:

Holt Deaths

Holt Deaths

I am fairly sure who wrote this-either the mother Ila or the father Samuel. I know why–to record the important dates in their family. But, the copyright/publishing page was disintegrated or missing, so I have no idea what year this Bible was published. This means I don’t know when the dates were written in. I don’t know if the dates included were copied in as they occurred or in bulk entries after the fact– that can be an important distinction.

This Bible is clearly an original source. But for something to be considered primary information it ideally should be written down as the events are occurring or a short time afterwards. It does look like the entries could have been made at different times, right?  But I concluded it is not as big an issue here because these are most likely two parents noting births and deaths of their children, which they are likely to have known firsthand. They even listed the deaths of their mothers.

Now notice a page from the births:

Holt Births

Holt Births

Hmm. Those first six look like they were entered all at once don’t they?
They probably were.  But, again, because the information in this Bible does not conflict with any other data I have on these individuals, and because of the likelihood that a parent recorded it, I am concluding these dates are correct. But this gives you a sense of all the things you have to think about.

Now I want to show a cover from a Prather Family Bible that was shared with me last year by my cousin Laverne Prather. This belonged to her mother Sarah:

Prather BIble Cover

Prather Bible Cover

Luckily, I was able to copy the copyright page:

Copyright Year

Copyright Year

Sarah diligently copied almost everything for  all of her kids, and all of the events happened after 1903. This gives me an added level of assurance. This page of dates appeared opposite a page of names:

Prather Dates

Prather Dates

Both of these Bibles cropped up when I wasn’t even looking and had no idea that they even existed, so even 12 years later the spirits are still sending me pleasant surprises. These Bibles were both filled with information I didn’t have. If you come across a family Bible, digitize it so that the data can survive the actual book which is bound to be fragile. As you can see here, the pictures turn out pretty well. Just don’t forget to copy the copyright page!

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